Tuesday Talks: The ‘C’ Word with Lisa Hunt-Wotton
I apologise from the outset for the length of this blog post. About 800 words more than normal. Firstly this blog has been decades in coming and has been a very difficult process. Secondly I didn’t feel I could do it justice by cutting it in half so I apologise for the length and ask for your grace as you read this.
I have had two ‘C’ words smash into me and both have irrevocably changed the course and direction of my life. Both have caused enormous suffering but both have infused steal into my soul and made me the person that I am today. Still, remarkably, a woman of faith.
I say the ‘C’ word because in both social realities they are words that are unacceptable, defy comprehension and they make people very very uncomfortable.
The first is Cancer.
My sister would say, “Don’t use the ‘C’ word”. Like it had some evil power, just in the word.
At the age of 29 my childhood sweetheart, my husband and father to our children, Kenneth John Hunt, was diagnosed with Melanoma Cancer. He was 32 and died 7 years later leaving me bereft, heartbroken and with the overwhelming task of raising our three children. It started as a freckle on his left calf, it then entered the lymphatic and blood systems and coursed all around his body like Russian roulette. It eventually lodged into his lungs, multiple deep skin tumours, lymph nodes, and eventually into his brain. He survived 5 crainiotomies, a lobotomy, and numerous disgusting side effects like blindness, change of character, loss of smell and agonising treatments with radio and chemotherapy.
A cancer journey is hideous, terrifying, arduous and gut wrenching. For those of you who wear the battle scars my solidarity stands with you in grace and love. For those who survived the death of a loved one, my heart bleeds for your loss and dislocation. For those in the middle of the battle be strong, fear not and whatever you do don’t lose your sense of humour. It will keep you sane. It’s no coincidence the King Solomon says that laughter is actually medicine. Mental equalibrium. (Prov 17:21).
As I always say, “Life is grave but it doesn’t have to be serious”.
I know that sounds trite, but it is a gift I am giving you. In the middle of the pain and heartache you still have a life to live. Sometimes you have no control, no choice over what is thrown at you, but you do have a choice in how you handle it, how you walk it.
Mate, I could write a book on all the dumb and stupid things that are said to cancer patients and their survivors. I remember someone saying to me “How is your faith”? “How is your faith”?
I answered, “It’s not that simple, we believe that God can heal, so we have faith for living, but we also have to have faith for dying because if this disease takes Kens life then we have to have faith that God is in control and that’s means that the children and I still have work to do on this earth. So, in that sense faith is eternal.
Faith to live, faith to die, faith to continue the race marked out for each one of us and faith that we will one day be reunited and that this time without him will one day be a blip in eternity.
One of the most troubling aspects I found in the burial process was what to write on my husbands tombstone.
Hello! There are no classes to attend or brochures to read on how to do this.
All I could think about was that possibly, one day in time, one of my children would be standing in front of the headstone and they would need encouragement and what could I say that would encapsulate all that their parents believed and hope for them?
This is what I wrote.
“Blessed are those who’s strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
Though they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger,
Until each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem”.
The key here is transformation. God absolutely loves to transform.
I know from experience that God is able to turn desolation into strength.
He can turn mourning into dancing, he makes beauty from broken things, he gives the oil of joy for mourning and he can bring comfort and refreshing in times of weeping. I know because I have experienced it. He doesn’t remove the trial but he transforms you through it.
The second ‘C’?
Well I find this one much harder to say. I still choke on the sentence ‘I am a cult survivor”. From the age of 4 I was raised in a Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Christian Cult.
What is a cult?
“A devoted religious group, often living together or doing life together in a community with a charismatic prophet leader. Cults are generally considered to be potentially dangerous, unorthodox, extremist groups by the dominant religious organizations in a society”.
A group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister. Within this environment spiritual abuse is rampant.
“Spiritual abuse is the manipulation and exploitation of others by the misuse of spiritual privilege and power—is a well documented problem in the mind controlling cults and sects of Australia. Unfortunately, as many battered Christians have discovered, its negative effects may also be found in ‘normal’, mainstream churches”. Dr Graham Barker.
Characteristics of a cult:
- They are bullies.
- Abuse is always involved, spiritual, psychological, sometimes physical, sexual and financial.
- They think that they have the truth and that everyone else will eventually receive this truth from them or perish.
- They operate out of fear and intimidation.
- They apparently hate the sin but love the sinner.
- They split and separate families.
- They employ shunning, excommunicating and cutting off to control you.
- They operate at times above the law. E.G.: In instances of domestic violence or child abuse the elders will deal with it, it is all kept within the cult. Usually you are required to submit, forgive and stay in the abusive situation.
- They manipulate and control every aspect of your life. All the while proclaiming they are doing it for your ultimate salvation and because they love you.
- They get you to confess and explain intimate details of your life, even thoughts, sin, any weakness any fear because this will then be told to ‘the elders’ and used against you later to control you depending on your apparent levels of submission and repentance which of course is decreed by them.
- The elders hold the mysteries and you must strive to understand them. Doctrinal revelations which are given to special elders and then force fed to the congregation. Most of which is incomprehensible.
- Pretty much anything is forgiven as long as you stay. The unpardonable sin is leaving.
- There are different applications to cult rules depending on where you sit in the hierarchy. Elders children are given more leniency and information about sins/disobediences etc. are carefully controlled so that they are more protected.
- If you are low in the hierarchy you are a dogs body pretty much.
- You are expected to give copious amounts of time, volunteering, money and holiday time to the church.
- They are exclusive and rarely have any connection with outside groups or local Churches.
- You are expected at every meeting without fail.
- They are very close knit and you become incredibly dependent on each other. On the outside they appear to be incredibly lovely people. In fact many trapped in that place are lovely and beautiful people but they are stuck and the stakes are very high if they are to ever think of leaving. Also – where do they go? The cult is their entire life 24/7.
When I was 14 years old, a family antagonist was released from jail. Upon his release he decided to stalk and threaten our family. He called our house and I answered the phone. He then proceeded to discharged a firearm several times over the phone and threatened to go and blow my fathers brains out. We called the police and my youngest sister and myself along with my older sister and brother in law were asked to go to a safe house until the situation could be stabilised. This meant that I had to miss a Sunday night meeting at church. The following week when I returned home, in one of the many many elders meetings that I was called into, I had to give account for why I had missed the service. I explained the best that I could. It was not good enough.
In a room of male only elders I was forced to bend over a table where the lead elder smacked me many times across the buttocks with a plank of wood. I was physically punished. I was then made to kneel on the floor in the centre of the circle of men and pray out loud for repentance and for forgiveness. This of course was terrifying and humiliating to a young girl in a room alone with a group of men. At the time my mother was overseas so I didn’t even have any parental fallback.
I have so many hideous examples I could fill a book. But it would make you sick to your stomach.
Eventually at the age of 37 after a horrendous series of events which I won’t go into now, I was given a choice, stay and obey the elders, or leave. It actually went like this “you go, but if you go you are to leave the children with us, if you don’t we will prove you to be an unfit mother”. It was made very clear to me that I was in spiritual danger. I must obey the messenger because he carried the word of God, “if you don’t obey the messenger you will have to leave us, and if you leave us you are walking away from God”. (the messenger is of course the elder appointed by God).
The swift result of this of course is total ex-communication. Remember of course that I had no life outside the cult.
For 15 years now we have been cut off from family and close friends and have had to make a complete new life. I have refrained from mentioning people in this account because of the very slim hope that at some stage there can be reconciliation and restoration. Also I am probably not quite at that stage yet in my own journey. This is plenty brave enough for me right now and its taken me years to get to this point. Breathe…..
Since that time the ‘un-brainwashing’, healing and therapy has been relentless and ongoing. It was a decade before I could really even believe that I had been in a cult. The kicker came in a session with a new psychiatrist, one of the very few cult specialists in Australia. He was having a bit of trouble believing some of the things I was saying. He went to his computer and tapped into a high level national security database and lo and behold there it was listed on a National watch list.
“It is an evil or destructive practice or phenomenon that is hard to contain or eradicate. A disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body. It is something bad or dangerous that causes other bad things to happen”.
To be honest, I can’t think of a better definition for a cult.
The difference is that it is the body of Christ that is effected and the members in that Church who are a part of the tumour. It makes you very, very sick and it takes painful therapy to get well. Unfortunately I know hundreds of ex-cult members who have left but who have never recovered. Spiritual abuse is soul destroying. It damages the very core of who you are and corrupts your understanding of who God is. Cults are abnormal parts of the body of Christ. What once started off as healthy cells, becomes diseased and abnormal and becomes something bad and dangerous.
For those of you reading this who know me and who know people in the cult or maybe you are enmeshed in the cult yourself.
You are very loved, there is help for you. There is life and freedom and peace for you on the other side. It is love that casts out all fear. You don’t need to fear the threats, the coercion, the cutting off. Jesus Christ will never leave or forsake you. He can turn your mourning into dancing, he does make beauty from broken things and he can bring comfort and refreshing in times of weeping. He will lead you out on His arm and carry you across His shoulders. His love and mercy and tenderness are toward you, He will NEVER cut you off.
I know this because I have experienced it.
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